Thursday, June 25, 2009

Christians fight for the right to burn book

In America (where else), in the appropriately named town of West Bend, Wisconsin (yes, really!), a group of Christians have filed a legal claim to hold a public book burning. The book in question is Francesca Lia Block's Baby Be-Bop, which the Christians claim is "explicitly vulgar, racial and anti Christian."

Baby Be-Bop, which according to Amazon was first published in the mid 1990's (what took these Christians so long?) is a gay coming of age tale set in the 1950's, in which the main character, a boy who is struggling with his homosexuality, is beaten up by a homophobic gang.

The complaint was lodged by four men from the Christian Civil Liberties Union. In addition to the 'right' to burn the book, they are also claiming $120,000 (£72,000) in compensation for being exposed to the book in a display at West Bend Community Memorial Library. The plaintiffs, all of whom are elderly, claim that their mental and emotional well-being was damaged by the book at the library," and that it contains derogatory language that could "put one's life in possible jeopardy, both adults and children alike."

They claim that the use of words in the book such as "faggot" and "nigger" are derogatory and offensive, permeating violence. I can see their point, but personally believe that it depends on the context in which these words are used. I have not read the book, so cannot really comment, but we have to remember that it is set in the 1950's when the use of such words was commonplace. The author no doubt felt that she had to use them in order to make the book authentic. I also remember the famous Big Brother episode from a few years back (not that I normally watch BB you understand) with Charley and the unfortunate Emily, where Emily (the white girl) was evicted for using the N word, which her black house mates used all the time to describe other members of their race. I was not alone in observing the double standard whereby it was alright for black people to use this word, but not for whites.

This is not of course to say that I think the use of this word is okay, as like I said, it all depends on the context, sometimes, as I suspect is the case with Francesca, you need to use words like this in order to make a point.

The city of West Bend though have to decide whether or not this claim is valid, and their insurers are currently evaluating this. Deborah Caldwell-Stone, acting director of the ALA's office for Intellectual Freedom said "I would be very surprised if they found any merit in this claim. Should they find any, we would certainly support the library in fighting it."

This legal challenge comes in the back of a lengthy campaign by residents, which was finally thrown out at the beginning of June, to restrict access to teenage books deemed sexually explicit from library shelves. Larry Siems, director of PENS said "Obviously we were really pleased with the outcome to that – there was a unanimous vote to keep the books in the library and we thought the matter should be over." Siems added that there seemed to be "a bit of theatre" in this new lawsuit, which had little possibility of going forward. He added "It does seem more to gain publicity than a real serious challenge." But, he said, PEN remained very concerned about the impulse behind the claim. "This is a group of people trying aggressively to rid the library of these books and that's very serious - it needs to be fought."

What are my views on this - I am not a Christian, or member of any organised faith, preferring to go my own way, but I respect the rights of others to follow whatever path they choose - as long as that path does not impinge upon the lives or the rights of others. If it is allowed to continue, then as far as I can see, this court case will impinge upon the lives and the rights of many - especially vulnerable young adults, who thanks to people like these aforementioned Christians, struggle with their own sexuality. When you start to talk about public book burning, it becomes a dangerous game, and makes one wonder where it will all end. Thousands of priceless and irreplaceble texts were destroyed by such bogoted actions at the library in Alexandria, and more recently during the cultural revolution in China.

The main character in this book is attacked and beaten up by a homophobic gang, something which is still all too common in both Britain and the United States (remember that in some countries, homosexuality is still punishable by death). Both a public book burning and these gang attacks are a form of violence by cowards and bullies who are too afraid to look into their own souls and examine why they revile homosexuality so much - in most cases, it is nothing to do with their religious beliefs, but to do with their own fears and insecurities - there is something about what they see as feminine men that they find challenging - men you see, are not supposed to be like this, they are supposed to be macho and strong and not express their feelings, especially not with other men. This I believe is the root cause of this fear, the recognition that their own feminine side is crying out to be seen and acknowledged, and their fear of expressing this and of being seen as vulnerable.

This is a shame, as society needs a generation of men who are able to express both masculine and feminine in equal amounts as we move towards a more balanced and equal state. We need men who have that softer edge to their personality, who are not afraid to express who they truly are. I am fortunate in that my own wonderful partner is one of those men. I have known since the start of our relationship twelve years ago that he was a cross dresser, but this does not make him gay - far from it, as he loves women - in every sense of the word, so much so that he wants to be one!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Simon says

Over at the Big Green Bookshop this time last week, Simon Key was blogging about the fact that he looks at The Bookseller website at least twice a day. I try to look at it myself also, maybe not twice a day, but at least once. It is after all, the best source of information on publishing, and where at least half of the stories I blog about come from. The headlines for today were Worthing Methvens re-opens as Bookstack (great news for both the town and the staff), former MP Martin Bell is to publish a book on the expenses scandal (that's a novel way to cash in!) and the tale of an author whose book has been dropped by his publisher due to complaints from the island community where he used to live. Apart from the Methvens story perhaps, none of these are really headline news, but just tasty little tit bits for us to chew on.

As Simon says, these headlines only serve to remind us of the things that really are important and of how futile worrying about this stuff is. Most of us spend half our lives worrying about stupid things that never even happen and really don't matter - how many nights a week do I want to work, how many invigilators will wish to buy my book tomorrow when the last exam is finished, and how many copies do Gardners have in stock. None of it matters.

What matters is that I am alive. End of.

I will of course like Simon, continue to look at The Bookseller anyway, as it is good to keep up to date with what is happening in your industry, but will endeavour to keep it all in perspective. 99.9 percent of what we worry about never happens - so why waste time doing so when you could be out there living!

That's what friends are for

Nadine Laman, who blogs The First Draft, shared the "Let's Be Friends" award she received. Thank you Nadine, I accept both your friendship (I did that a long time ago anyway) and the award. Blogs that receive the Let’s Be Friends Award are written by bloggers who aim to find and be friends. They are not interested in self-aggrandisement. The hope is that when the ribbons of these prizes are cut, even more friendships are propagated. Please give more attention to these writers. Pass this award on. It is my honour and privilege to pass it on to six other bloggers:

Sarah Jane Grace astrologer extraordinaire

Tracy Saunders Spanish based fiction writer and author of Pilgrimage to Heresy

Mick Rooney from Dublin in Ireland. Mick aims to discuss, record and share the experiences and opinions of the author about POD Publishing, Self Publishing, Subsidy and Independent Publishing and all related issues.

Big Green Bookshop independent book shop in Wood Green, London, run by two ex Waterstones managers with a wicked sense of humour.

Bronwen Winter Phoenix Scottish author of three fiction books inspired by dreams.

Sarah aka Echo (it has just occured to me that I don't know her surname!) - US blog where Sarah talks about various issues that affect her life

Of course I can't forget Nadine whose blog can be found here. Nadine is based in Arizona, USA and writes contemporary womens fiction, rather good it is too.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

How to Tell a Great Story

Around a month ago, I had an email from my good friend and writing buddy across the pond Nadine Laman, to say that she had been interviewed by a lady called Aneeta Sundararaj (who is based in Malaysia) for her blog, entitled "How to Tell a Great Story". Nadine suggested that I might be interested in an interview myself and duly forwarded my details on.

The interview has now gone live, and as I write is winging its way around the world via Aneetas's newsletter, which is circulated to some 3000 people worldwide. I can hear those tills ringing already with the sound of 3000 copies of Genesis of Man being sold !

Seriously, it is rather good reading, even if I do say so myself. Aneeta is always on the look out for new and interesting people to interview, so if you are interested, then you know what to do ...

The interview can be read here

Officially middle aged!

Today was my birthday - I have reached the grand old age of 44, and with average life expectancy for women at around 88 years, I guess I can say that I am now officially middle aged ! How then did I celebrate - by going to work and mopping up an old lady's accident all over the bathroom floor - lovely !

In between the mopping up, I had to wash (thankfully not by hand) the breakfast dishes and prepare the trolley for morning tea. After that I had to iron the table clothes and napkins, clean the Managers office, the residents lounge and the dining room, and lay the tables for lunch. I then had ten residents rooms to clean, plus four toilets (two for the staff and two for the residents) and one bathroom. I finished all that lot just in time to wash up the dishes from lunch, prepare the afternoon tea trolley and mop the kitchen floor ... So, you could say it has been a busy day.

At least my money worries could soon be at an end. The chef mentioned yesterday that the girl who used to work in the kitchens in the evening, clearing tables and washing up, has left. it is only 2 hours each night from 5pm-7pm, but it is 10 hours a week that I could do with. I do not really want to work seven days a week though, even if it is only for 2 hours each night. So, I spoke to my boss who has agreed that I can work three nights a week next week and see how I feel about taking the job on a permanent basis. They will of course need to advertise for someone else to cover the remaining two nights, but that shouldn't be a problem.

So next week it will be busy, busy again, with a big exam tomorrow and a smaller one (the last one for the season) on Tuesday, and Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday nights, plus my usual weekend duties. You know what they say though, make hay while the sun shines. The way I look at it, each day that I work there is paying for another night (with food) in Ilfracombe. One month tomorrow and I shall be on my way, and then the fun can really begin.